Brain injury - Planning and organisation skills

  • Planning and organisational skills help people prepare for situations and decide how to finish activities in the most efficient and effective way. These skills are often affected by a brain injury.

    What are planning and organisational skills?

    There are a collection of cognitive or thinking skills that are often discussed as a group and called 'executive functions' or 'higher level thinking skills'. These skills include planning and organisation.

    • Planning: is the process of thinking about the activities required to reach a desired goal
    • Organisation: refers to the ability to direct and bring order to the task at hand

    Examples of difficulties with planning and organisational skills

    • Not starting tasks because they don't know where to begin.
    • Starting a task impulsively, without planning what steps are necessary.
    • Attempting tasks in haphazard ways and finishing things slowly or inefficiently.
    • Having trouble coping with anything complicated.
    • Jumping from one topic to another or going off on tangents in conversation, oral presentations or written tasks.
    • Completing a task but not meeting the goal that was set.
    • Understanding parts of a task or subject but not being able to join all the parts effectively.
    • Not knowing where things are and forgetting appointments.
    • Difficulty learning new information.
    • Difficulty prioritising work and organising homework.

    What strategies might help?

    • It helps to break a task down into smaller parts, and work out in what order things need to be done (i.e. have a structure or plan to follow).
    • Focus on one task at a time.
    • Before the child begins a task, get them to do an outline or plan.  At the end, provide feedback on this.
    • Clearly set out a step-by-step written plan that can be followed to finish a task. Establish a 'template' step-by-step plan for common activities such as writing a story.
    • Give the child good prompts which they can tick off, e.g. written checklists that set out the steps of a task, the range of tasks that need doing, or things they need to bring to certain events.
    • Establish structured routines that can be learned for everyday activities.
    • Make the goals of a task very clear and help to write a plan to focus on those goals.
    • Provide structure when teaching by first explaining a broad outline and giving details later.
    • Encourage the child to use a diary, daily planner and timetable to organise things such as appointments, when school work is due and to schedule appropriate time for homework and assignments to be completed.

    When to see a doctor?

    Difficulties with organisation and planning skills, as well as other cognitive difficulties, are formally identified by a neuropsychological assessment. A neuropsychologist and cognitive therapist can help put together compensatory and management strategies that are suitable for each individual child and their particular cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

    Key points to remember

    • Planning and organising skills can be affected after a brain injury.
    • Planning and organising skills help people to prepare for situations and decide how to achieve goals or complete activities in the most efficient and effective way.
    • Problems in this area can be formally identified by a neuropsychologist.

    For more information

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Paediatric Rehabilitation Service based on information from the Brain Injury Service at The Children's Hospital Westmead. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed August 2020.

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